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Bigger, Brighter, Louder

150 Years of Chicago Theater as Seen by "Chicago Tribune" Critics

The first known Chicago Tribune theater review appeared on March 25, 1853. An anonymous notice, it shared the page with two other announcements—one about a pair of thousand-pound hogs set to be slaughtered and another trumpeting the largest load of lumber ever to leave Chicago. “And thus Chicago’s priorities were starkly laid out right there on that page,” begins Chris Jones in the introduction to this eyewitness cultural history. “Hog butcher for the world and windy self-promoter, specializing in commerce-driven superlatives. The arts came a poor third. Critics, and the artists they covered, would rail against that perceived set of civic priorities for years.”

The Chicago of today, on the other hand, is regarded as one of the world’s premier cities for theater, and no one has had a more consistent front-row seat to its ascendance than the Chicago Tribune theater critics. Bigger, Brighter, Louder weaves together more than 150 years of Tribune reviews into a compelling narrative, pairing full reviews with commentary and history. With a sharp eye for telling details and a keen sense of historical context, Jones, longtime chief Tribune theater critic, takes readers through decades of highs and lows, successes and failures.

The book showcases fascinating early reviews of actors and shows that would go on to achieve phenomenal success, including a tryout of A Raisin in the Sun with newcomer Sidney Poitier and the first major review of The Producers.  It also delves into the rare and the unusual, such as a previously unpublished Tennessee Williams interview and a long conversation with Edward Albee’s mother. With reviews from Claudia Cassidy, Peregine Pickle, William Leonard, and more, many never collected before, Bigger, Brighter, Louder offers a unique lasting record of an ephemeral art and a riveting look at the history behind Chicago’s rise to theatrical greatness.

376 pages | 16 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Art: Art--General Studies

Chicago and Illinois

Culture Studies


"Bigger, Brighter, Louder gives us dozens of reviews—some perceptive, some notorious, and some bitingly funny. I warrant that you will find Mr. Jones’ Chicago-eyed view of theatre sharp, amusing and incisive."


“From Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle in 1868, to the notorious critic of the ’40s & ’50s, Claudia Cassidy, to the Goodman Theatre’s The Iceman Cometh with Nathan Lane in 2012, Chris Jones writes a rich and rewarding history of Chicago theatre. It’s a must for any theatergoer.”

Roy Leonard

“An invaluable addition to the history of our city.” 

Roche Schulfer, Executive Director of Goodman Theatre

"Bigger Brighter Louder is more than an anthology of reviews; Jones follows each of them with a commentary, and these tell us things—not necessarily flattering—about the critic, the production, the state of Chicago theater at the time, and sometimes even the Tribune. Jones has done his homework; he’s consistently interesting. . . . So-called lost writing rarely gets this good."

Michael Miner | Chicago Reader

"Bigger, Brighter, Louder is a fascinating read, with Jones providing a thoroughly accessible exegesis."

Time Out Chicago

Bigger, Brighter, Louder is a must read for all theater lovers; for all young Thespians; and for all critics. I thought I knew a few things after seeing and writing 3,000 reviews over the last 12 years but I learned much from Chris Jones’ terrific book. This book should be required reading before anyone writes another theater review."

Chicago Critic

" A constantly engaging and illuminating lesson in the role a great newspaper played in developing and sustaining a great theater town."


"I devoured these pieces, and the accompanying commentary by Chris Jones, as if I were working my way through a jumbo bag of M&Ms. There is pleasure in reading about plays, writers, players, and productions that few today could have seen. . . . One can trace the evolution of both the theatre and the society it serves through columns originally assumed to be of temporary value."

Jeffrey Sweet | Dramatics

"Bigger, Brighter, Louder is a natural for those already hooked on the theater. It also may appeal to others such as those just starting to attend stage shows and to movie die-hards who are wondering what some people find so fascinating about live theater."

Chicago Book Review

Table of Contents

Chicago Tribune drama critics
1   Introduction /“The Theatre,”
March 25, 1853
2   “Jefferson’s ‘Rip Van Winkle,’” Peregine Pickle,
September 6, 1868
3   “The Blondes,” Peregine Pickle,
February 20, 1870
4   “A Doll’s House,”
March 9, 1890
5   “The Wizard of Oz,”
June 17, 1902
6   “Mr. Blue Beard,” W. I. Hubbard,
November 24, 1903
7   “Iroquois Theater Fire,”
December 31, 1903
8   “The Melting Pot,”
December 16, 1908
9   “Make It Loud for Chicago, Managers Tell Their Players,” Percy Hammond,
January 16, 1910
10   “Music and the Drama: Still the ‘Rural Drama,’” Percy Hammond,
May 7, 1910
11   “The Little Theater Begins Its Adventure,” Percy Hammond,
November 13, 1912
12   “Roosevelt Skips Banquet to See Hull House Play,”
December 10, 1912
13   “Under False Pretenses,” Sheppard Butler,
October 3, 1922
14   “Beulah Annan Awaits Stork, Murder Trial,” Maurine Watkins,
May 9, 1924
15   “Chicago,” f. d.,
September 12, 1927
16   “Tobacco Road,” Charles Collins,
September 3, 1935
17   “Waiting for Lefty,” Charles Collins,
May 18, 1936
18   “Voodoo Macbeth,” Charles Collins,
August 30, 1936
19   “Mulatto,” Charles Collins,
December 28, 1936
20   “Wilder’s ‘Doll’s House,’” Charles Collins,
December 5, 1937
21   “The Swing Mikado,” Cecil Smith,
September 26, 1938
22   “Our Town,” Cecil Smith,
January 24, 1939
23   “Romeo and Juliet,” Cecil Smith,
April 18, 1940
24   “Porgy and Bess,” Cecil Smith,
November 29, 1942
25   “Carmen,” Claudia Cassidy,
August 1, 1943
26   “Abie’s Irish Rose,” Claudia Cassidy,
March 20, 1944
27   “Early to Bed,” Claudia Cassidy,
August 29, 1944
28   “The Glass Menagerie,” Claudia Cassidy,
December 27, 1944
29   “Follow the Girls,” Claudia Cassidy,
October 23, 1946
30   “All My Sons,” Claudia Cassidy,
November 18, 1947
31   “Miller Responds,” Claudia Cassidy,
November 23, 1947
32   “The Firefly,” Claudia Cassidy,
December 27, 1947
33   “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Claudia Cassidy,
September 23, 1948
34   “When an Audience Boos and Demands Its Money Back—How Bad Can Opera Get?,” Claudia Cassidy,
May 3, 1949
35   “Theater Needs a Present as Well as a Past to Have a Future,” Claudia Cassidy,
June 12, 1949
36   “Detective Story,” Claudia Cassidy,
November 2, 1949
37   “Private Lives,” Claudia Cassidy,
March 21, 1950
38   “South Pacific,” Claudia Cassidy,
November 15, 1950
39   “The Rose Tattoo,” Claudia Cassidy,
December 29, 1950
40   “Actor Keane Speaks Up; Assails Tribune Critic,”
January 26, 1951
41   “Williams and Mielziner Make Some Theater Suggestions,” Claudia Cassidy,
April 22, 1951
42   “The Fig Leaf,” Claudia Cassidy,
October 9, 1952
43   “Gigi,” Claudia Cassidy,
November 6, 1952
44   “Producer Takes Issue on How Plays Should Be Welcomed,” Claudia Cassidy,
March 29, 1953
45   “The Coming of Bildad,” Claudia Cassidy,
August 20, 1953
46   “The Children’s Hour,” Claudia Cassidy,
November 10, 1953
47   “Amplifying Theater for Chicago Piece, with Sights on the Moon,” Claudia Cassidy,
January 9, 1955
48   “Anniversary Waltz,” Claudia Cassidy,
January 1, 1957
49   “Lysistrata,” Claudia Cassidy,
March 13, 1957
50   “Waiting for Godot,” Claudia Cassidy,
May 15, 1957
51   “Are Broadway’s Leftovers Enough or Shall We Try Rolling Our Own?,” Claudia Cassidy,
July 4, 1957
52   “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Claudia Cassidy,
January 7, 1958
53   “IBM Critic, or How to Talk Yourself Out of a Perfectly Good Job,” Claudia Cassidy,
January 25, 1959
54   “A Raisin in the Sun,” Claudia Cassidy,
February 11, 1959
55   “A Glance at the Past, Present and Future of Chicago Cafes,” William Leonard,
December 27, 1959
56   “Too Many Hats,” William Leonard,
February 21, 1960
57   “The Millionairess,” Claudia Cassidy,
October 30, 1963
58   “‘Camelot’ and Other Road Shows,” Claudia Cassidy,
December 15, 1963
59   “The Brig,” Claudia Cassidy,
January 13, 1965
60   “The Cassidy Years,” William Leonard,
January 13, 1966
61   “Tears Flowing over the State of the Theater,” William Leonard,
November 13, 1966
62   “Albee and His Mother Discuss His Writing,” William Leonard,
March 19, 1967
63   “Loop No Longer Has Monopoly on Theater,” William Leonard,
July 2, 1967
64   “Animal Farm,” William Leonard,
March 15, 1970
65   “The Body Politic Exciting, Maybe Revolutionary,” William Leonard,
April 19, 1970
66   “Grease,” William Leonard,
February 12, 1971
67   “Tennessee Williams—a Theater Orpheus Who Looked Back,” Claudia Cassidy,
July 4, 1971
68   “Tennessee Williams’s ‘Outcry,’” Clifford Terry,
August 22, 1971
69   “Warp,” William Leonard,
December 17, 1971
70   “Boss,” William Leonard,
May 25, 1973
71   “The Night They Shot Harry Lindsey with a 155 mm. Howitzer and Blamed It on Zebras,” William Leonard,
October 20, 1973
72   “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” Linda Winer,
June 21, 1974
73   “Beyond the Horizon,” Roger Dettmer,
February 14, 1975
74   “American Buffalo,” Roger Dettmer,
October 25, 1975
75   “The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year” and “The Dumb Waiter,” Lawrence Kart,
December 17, 1976
76   “Bleacher Bums,” Linda Winer,
August 3, 1977
77   “Thesmo,” Larry Kart,
August 12, 1977
78   “The Woods,” Linda Winer,
November 17, 1977
79   “Working,” Linda Winer,
January 6, 1978
80   “Chicago,” Linda Winer,
February 25, 1978
81   “The Glass Menagerie,” Richard Christiansen,
May 18, 1979
82   “True West,” Richard Christiansen,
April 22, 1982
83   “In the Belly of the Beast: Letters from Prison,” Richard Christiansen,
September 30, 1983
84   “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Richard Christiansen,
February 7, 1984
85  “Hamlet,” Richard Christiansen,
February 1, 1985
86   “Never the Sinner,” Richard Christiansen,
September 11, 1985
87   “King Henry V,” Sid Smith,
August 5, 1986
88   “The Grapes of Wrath,” Richard Christiansen,
September 19, 1988
89   “Marvin’s Room,” Richard Christiansen,
February 20, 1990
90   “Wings,” Sid Smith,
October 27, 1992
91   “Metamorphoses,” Richard Christiansen,
October 27, 1998
92   “The Producers,” Richard Christiansen,
February 19, 2001
93   “Pacific Overtures,” Richard Christiansen,
October 19, 2001
94   “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Richard Christiansen,
March 6, 2002
95   “Gem of the Ocean,” Michael Phillips,
April 30, 2003
96   “Bounce,” Michael Phillips,
July 2, 2003
97   “August: Osage County,” Chris Jones,
July 9, 2007
98   “A Steady Rain,” Chris Jones,
September 29, 2007
99   “Our Town,” Chris Jones,
May 3, 2008
100   “Clybourne Park,” Chris Jones,
September 19, 2011
101   “The Iceman Cometh,” Chris Jones,
May 4, 2012

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